Palestinian workers’ strike, August 21: a demonstration of power but lacking leadership and direction

Thousands of Palestinians went on strike on August 21, 2022. The workers answered the call of activists who were not part of any formal organization, and downed tools for a […]

Thousands of Palestinians went on strike on August 21, 2022. The workers answered the call of activists who were not part of any formal organization, and downed tools for a day to protest against the proposal to pay their wages via Palestinian banks. Surprisingly, given the lack of any formal organizing, the response was huge: instead of entering Israel as usual via the checkpoints, the workers gathered at the checkpoints throughout the country, from the Mount Hebron border crossing in the south to the Jalameh checkpoint in the north, including checkpoints in Jerusalem, Tarqumya (Hebron), Modi’in, Qalqiliya, and Tulkarm.

The August protest was mixed up with claims on social media about the exploitation of the workers and the thousands of shekels many are compelled to pay to obtain work permits. The strike clearly expressed criticism of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the workers’ lack of faith in it, particularly the fear that the PA would take advantage of wages being paid via Palestinian banks to take money from the workers. The greatest fear was that the PA would take over the pension fund of workers (currently held by Israeli Payments Division) via the Palestinian social security, which the PA had tried to activate in 2016-19. Workers whose pension is held by the Israeli authorities in a fund which lacks transparency and pays no interest would rather their pension remain in an Israeli fund, and not be transferred to the control of the PA – whom they see as inefficient and corrupt.

Prior to the strike some of the key activists who initiated the strike talked to MAAN and asked us to take a stand on the call to oppose the transfer of salaries to bank accounts. Many activists know MAAN and see in this union a clear and effective voice against the violation of workers’ rights and in the fight to stop the trade in work permits. MAAN held a meeting of a group of Palestinian workers’ committees organized with MAAN, and as a result came to the conclusion that the focus of Palestinian workers’ protest should be the trade in permits and not the transfer of wages through banks, which we see as positive step that protects the rights of workers.

It must be noted that the strike comes after a period of escalation of violence and intensified operations of Israeli forces within Palestinian towns, which has led to many deaths in recent months and a rise in tensions (Israeli army incursions into Palestinian areas have resulted in 81 people killed since the beginning of the year). Hanging over these events is the question of the PA’s survival, when every Israeli incursion into Palestinian territory further undermines its legitimacy.

At the same time, Israel is promoting the “economic peace” policy led by Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Accordingly, last June Israel announced a massive increase in the number of entry permits for Palestinian workers, including those from Gaza (after 15 years in which no worker from Gaza has been permitted to enter Israel). In addition, new regulations have lowered the age of unmarried workers allowed to enter Israel to 27 (previously, unmarried men had not received permits at all), made it easier for Palestinians to obtain permits enabling them to seek work in Israel, and promised that old security directives would be abolished so that Palestinian residents who had been denied entry for years could now obtain a work permit.

The proposal to transfer wages through the banks instead of cash payments is an integral part of this policy and is being promoted by an information campaign by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) urging Palestinian workers not to purchase permits from intermediaries. The policy also includes the reexamination of employment arrangements, apparently with the aim of adopting the system of “corporations” via whom Palestinians will be employed (see related article).

In these recent developments and in the proposed changes to the employment of Palestinians, MAAN sees evidence that the Israeli security and economic authorities recognize the total failure of the old employment arrangements and the system of work permits tied to employers. In January 2022, we published a position paper (jointly with LEAP, headed by Prof. Kenneth Mann) calling for the implementation of a Green Card for Palestinian workers.

We see overwhelming support among Palestinian workers for the idea of a Green Card. MAAN is trying to influence the workers’ struggle, which demonstrated its power in the August strike, so that it includes the call for a Green Card, thereby ending the exploitation of workers and the system of “binding” them to employers, and preventing the trade in permits. At the same time, we are leading a campaign in Israel and around the world to garner support for this idea.

אודות Assaf Adiv